I was doubly inspired yesterday to re-engage with the RSA through an evening of drinks, chat and lightning project presentations from Fellows.
The seven projects were inspiring enough in themselves, ranging from a Global Thought Map to a festival of sense-stimulating events, and tech solutions to help refugees. Details here of RSA Engage London.
Taken together with the RSA’s broader vision for social action - explained in this excellent animation - they gave me some ideas about how, through the RSA, to explore spreading ideas and supporting action through a mix of events and social media. This will make more sense if you first spare a moment to view the animation - What is the RSA?
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RSA = Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, founded 1754. Fellows broadly = members. More here
I’ve been a Fellow, on and off, since 2007 when the new chief executive, Matthew Taylor, first set out a vision for engaging both staff and Fellows in a programme of research, publications, events, networking, and projects large and small.
A group of Fellows set up OpenRSA to complement the staff-led initiatives, as you can see from our blog 2007-09. There were then a few bumps over the years, and some early enthusiasts dropped out, including me for a time. I felt it wasn’t too clear whether Fellows, through their fees, were there to support the projects and research run by staff, and/or whether RSA should be doing more to support the Fellows, like a membership body.
At yesterday’s event Fellows I spoke to seemed pretty happy with the current mix … with a few looking at more ways to get involved. Of course the networking juice = free drinks helped.
The project presentations offered one route, with opportunities in cash and kind. RSA offers grants and help for Fellows wishing to start their own projects, and there is an interesting crowdfunding initiative called Crowdpatch that combines funding, volunteering and local networking.
The RSA website is is rich in research and reports, blog posts about projects, and has a find a Fellow facility. What isn’t there is the original vision of an online platform enabling Fellows to connect across interests and projects.
That sort of all-in-one online community probably isn’t feasible these days, when people have so many options through Twitter, Facebook and other platforms. But I do wonder if more could be done to help Fellows fulfil the vision in the animation: acting as global advocates, accessing RSA resources, developing ideas for action, and collaborating.
At the moment the blog posts don’t attract many comments, and while there is a fair amount of tweeting around events this doesn’t seem to consolidate into conversation. A database of Fellows is fine … but you also need to see who is saying and doing what. That involves encouraging people to share what they are interested in, and what they are doing, beyond a static profile.
So - might there be any interest within RSA staff and Fellowship in some network building, doing more to connect people, ideas and projects? If so, I think the key would be to identify and support the equivalent of community connectors and agents of change that I wrote about here.
A few years ago there was a network of RSA digital champions, as this page shows, but I couldn’t find anything more recent. I did hear yesterday from one staff member about support for storytelling by Fellows, which sounded really interesting. I would like to know more.
Either way, I think the RSA continues to be a fantastic testbed for developing the cooperative and collabotative social ecologies we need in local communities, nationally and internationally. I’ll find out more about what’s happening and report back.
Meanwhile thanks to Mark Hall, the London regional manager, and Hannah Pater, Senior Development Manager for organising and hosting such an engaging evening.